“Do Something” was a book I co-authored several years ago after meeting with Syracuse University students who said they were so overwhelmed by responsibilities that they couldn’t be bothered even thinking about the environment. This bothered me enough to explore the question of how anyone preoccupied with other concerns might be persuaded to become involved in a cause-related issue. My hypothesis was that taking a single step in that direction – one as simple as Googling it or engaging someone in conversation about it (as so often happens now on social media) — is often all it takes to result in becoming an active participant or innovator. In other words, just “do something,” anything, and once you do the next steps will follow automatically.
But there is a factor that often keeps people from becoming fully engaged in anything, be it a cause or a potentially profitable enterprise, and that’s being a perfectionist – needing to make a flawless entry on stage in whatever role you’re attempting to assume. I was reminded of that recently when I was conversing with a senior-level retail executive, who related how one of his operating principles in business was a rule he had been taught early in his career by a superior while working at Marks and Spencer in the U.K. – that “the price of perfection is bankruptcy.”
But isn’t the pursuit of perfection a positive attribute in business? Well, not necessarily. Just recently, for example, in making a pitch to a company that’s a leader in traceability systems for anything that moves, is temperature sensitive or needs to be tracked for safety, my associates and I worked diligently to come up with the ‘perfect PowerPoint’ – one that looked great and had what we thought was just the right messaging. But when we put it in front in front of the prospective customer, we very quickly realized that all the work to perfect this presentation was wasted effort because we hadn’t gotten the value proposition right. We would have been much better off to have merely teased up the features and let the company’s reps fill in the benefits as if the idea was theirs, rather than using the PowerPoint to impress them with how perfect we were for the job.
Now I’m not saying it’s a good idea to go forward without a plan, or that paying attention to small details in the execution of whatever you’re doing isn’t important. (In fact, it’s what led to the demise of a company for which I once served as CEO, New Organics). What I am saying is that it’s usually better to proceed with an imperfect or not totally formulated plan or take advantage of a less-than-ideal opportunity than try too hard to achieve perfection that might never materialize. And, guess what? — every plan is imperfect no matter how much preparation goes into it.. Anyone who has embarked on any adventure, whether it involves climbing a rock or rolling out a business, can attest that you never know what you’re going to run into to disrupt your grand design. But the knowledge you pick up in the process better prepares you for the next go at it.
That’s why it’s far better to just start down the road and see where the turns take you instead of “overplanning” for something. Writing the perfect business plan might all be very well and good, but keep in mind that while you’re spending valuable time making it sound perfect in every detail, there’s a very good chance someone else is beating you to the punch with a scheme whose finer points still need to be ironed out. Besides which, when you are actually engaged in doing something rather than preparing to do something, you’re already in a learning curve that might invalidate all your careful planning.
So I’d like to thank that retail exec for reminding me to get going and quit spending so much time trying to formulate perfect plans – advice I’ve begun acting on, with tangible results. So I pass it on to you along with the benefit of an old cliché that I think those in pursuit of perfection should always keep in mind: Practice makes perfect.